Sexuality and Birth Control

The physical and emotional changes that happen to every young person as they grow up can be exciting and confusing. For most of us, teaching our children about all these changes-their sexuality-is not an easy task. We wonder what words to use, when to bring up the topic, how to handle touchy situations.

What is Sexuality?

"Sexuality is much more than the facts of life or the act of sexual intercourse. Sexuality is part of the personality of every human being. It lets us know which gender we belong to, and it can define our role in society and influence our feelings about relationships with others. It makes it possible for us to feel love, compassion, joy, and sorrow. Sexuality includes how we feel about our bodies and everything related to maleness and femaleness. Our sexuality determines the way we lead our everyday lives because it is central to the lives of us all.

As parents, we want our children to grow up with healthy bodies and minds, to get the best out of life in terms of lasting friendships and loving relationships; we want to teach values and attitudes that will help them become successful, healthy, and happy adults. Our sexuality is involved in all of these things."

When to Start Talking

The early childhood years are a good time to begin teaching children about sexuality. During these years, sexual issues come up often and children are open to us and willing to listen. At this time, we have perhaps the greatest chance of passing on our values. If we get in the habit of discussing sexual issues while children are young, it sets a pattern for the rest of their growing up years! If you haven't started, it's never too late to begin.

Some parents feel that too much information will stimulate curiosity and encourage sexual activity. Actually, the reverse is true. Curiosity is natural. The fact is that when children come from homes where sexuality is comfortably discussed, they usually postpone their first intercourse longer, and they are more likely to use contraception when they do become sexually active. The lesson to be learned is that children for whom sexuality is not a taboo subject are more likely to grow into adolescents and adults who make rational decisions and use mature judgment about sexuality.

Before you actually begin talking with your children about their sexuality and sex, you should prepare yourself in several ways. Be aware of the values and facts you want to teach about sex. Be clear about your own feelings. Think through the major issues and discuss them with your partner. Learn what to expect from your children at particular ages.

You may want to keep the following suggestions in mind:

  • Answer questions when they come up. Don't put them off-your child may not ask again.
  • Listen carefully to all questions. Make sure you understand what your child is asking. Then respond directly to the question being asked.
  • Give only the amount of information appropriate for your child's age level. Children at different ages need different answers to the same question.
  • Answer younger children's questions with honest, simple and brief explanations-rely on the facts.
  • Use the proper names for sexual body parts. Make sure your child understands their meaning and then use them consistently.
  • Teach your children family values and beliefs, as well as facts.
  • Don't always wait for your child to ask questions. Take advantage of ''teachable'' moments-a pregnant friend, sex in a TV show, your child's use of sexual language. If he/she is not asking questions by age 5, bring up the topic yourself.
  • Stop other activities and look at your child when discussing this important topic. Ask for his or her ideas so that your conversation is a genuine sharing.
  • Don't be afraid of not being an expert. If you don't know the answer, admit it, and then find out. Or you and your child can find the answer together by sitting down with a book.
  • Respect your child's privacy, as you expect respect from others.

Talking About Sexual Responsibility

Most youth are not emotionally or intellectually mature enough to handle the consequences of sexual relationships. Their need to "fit in" will make them very vulnerable to peer pressure and misinformation. If they fear being different from their friends, reassure them their feelings are normal. It's essential teens understand the various consequences of sexual activity and recognize the need for being responsible. It's important to encourage teens to not become sexually active.

Discussing with your son or daughter reasons and benefits of not being sexually active, and ways to say no are important and will help them think through their own thoughts and feelings. Relate and reinforce your values and why you believe what you do.

Even if you're uncomfortable with the possibility of your son or daughter having sexual intercourse, it's important to talk specifically about the risks of sex. Let your teen know there is no such thing as safe sex. (See Sexually Transmitted Diseases.) Abstinence is the only 100% effective means of preventing pregnancy, STD and AIDS.

Giving information about contraceptives may seem like giving permission to have sex, but if you incorporate birth control information as part of ongoing sexuality education before it becomes a personal issue for your son or daughter, you can prevent getting caught in the information/permission conflict.

Teens need their parents, and guardians to help them develop responsible and ethical standards with which to make mature decisions about sexual relationships. You need to be there for them. If you are uncomfortable talking with your son or daughter about birth control, but you believe it is important knowledge for them, connect them to someone you respect and are comfortable with who is willing to and can give them accurate information. See counseling if you and your teen are having difficulty communicating about this topic area.

As a parent, you need to build up your children's self-esteem. Children who feel good about them- selves are better able to handle peer pressure and make responsible decisions (See Self-Esteem.)

For workshops on "How to be the Primary Educator for Your Child", check with your church/synagogue or call Child and Family Resources; contact information is below.

For further information:

Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes
Various counseling and educational programs, including parenting programs.

Child and Family Resources
Early childhood programs, growing with baby, parent education (including young parents), babysitter training.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County 4-H Youth Development Program
(585)394-3977 x435
A variety of training and activity programs including 4-H programs.

Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region
Sexually transmitted disease testing for men and women; birth control; counseling; pregnancy tests, women's reproductive health.

Thompson Health
(585) 396-6497
We primarily provide education, but give contact numbers and instructor email addresses to students in the class, and will handle 1:1 issues directly, or provide appropriate resources as needed.

The following pamphlets were used/consulted in preparing this section:

  1. "How To Talk With Your Child About Sexuality". A Parent's Guide, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, N.Y., N.Y.
  2. "Talking With Your Child About Sex". Jane Hiatt, ETR Associates/Network Publications, Santa Cruz, CA.
  3. "Talking With Your Teenager About Sexual Responsibility". Lucas Stang, ETR Associates/ Network Publications, Santa Cruz, CA.

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